History of the Portscatho Independent Chapel

by Hilary Thompson

Portscatho Independent ChapelWilliam Billing
The chapel owes its existence to William Billing, who was born at Gorran Haven in 1783. His father, a ‘truly pious man,’ was a fisherman who had set aside two rooms of his cottage as a chapel for worship. Hence his children grew up in a fervently religious household. William arrived in Portscatho as a young man in his twenties, already a master seiner, a position of considerable importance in the pilchard fishing industry, the major occupation in the village at that time. He claimed to have been ‘directed by providence to Portscatha, where he could not hear the Gospel of Christ preached according to his belief.’

He married in 1813 Elizabeth Odgers of Portscatho, whose family leased land in the Capefield and on this he subsequently built his chapel. At first, however, services were held in a room he acquired, ‘a little Bethel,’ and for which he made forms for seating with his own hands. As his congregation grew it became necessary to have a larger building and this he provided at his own cost in 1822. William’s ministry was confirmed by ordination in April 1825. He was assisted greatly by his mentor, the Revd Wildbore of Falmouth.

After this time baptisms were carried out at the Independent Chapel, surviving records including the children of men employed in the Gerrans Bay Preventive Service and also his relatives, for example John Thomas, son of James and Persis Billing, and, shortly before his death in 1839, his niece Elizabeth Peters. When William Billing died at the age of 56 in November 1839 his grieving congregation buried him beneath his pulpit, which at that time stood centrally in the front of the church.
Portscatha Chapel registration for marriages
Entry in the London Gazette 9th Jan 1846

The chapel prospered and in time a larger building was required. In 1864 plans were put into operation to enlarge the chapel and to provide a Sunday School. This was achieved by public subscription. A Trust Deed of that date witnesses the transfer of the buildings and right of way to the Sunday School from James Peters and William Billing Odgers to the Trustees of the Chapel. It is described in the Trust Deed as a chapel for the use of Protestant Dissenters of the Congregational denomination, commonly called Independents, being paedo-Baptists (i.e. carrying out infant baptism.) The grand re-opening, which took place in the summer of 1867, was fully reported in the Royal Cornwall Gazette on 4 July of that year.

An unfortunate incident occurred in the great blizzard of 1891. In this storm the chapel lost not only Thomas Peters, its Secretary, whose Schooner Rose was lost with all hands off Lands End, but also the chapel records which he had taken with him for safe keeping!

Following incorporation into the United Reformed Church, the congregation has recently been joined by the Methodist Church of Gerrans to form the Portscatho United Church.
Chapel Trustees in 1864
William Noonan, Coastguard, PortscathoRichard Stodden, Gardener, Gerrans
Charles Penver, Mariner, GerransJohn Eva Downing, Merchant, Falmouth
Robert Richard Broad, the Younger of Falmouth, MerchantJames Tannahill, Draper, Truro
William Norton, Grocer, TruroRichard Ward, Mason, Portscatho
John Sprake, Coal Merchant, St MawesJames Carlyon Peters, Carpenter, Battersea, London
George Jenking, Shoemaker, St Mawes 

Article & photographs © Hilary Thompson 2006, reproduced here with the kind permission of Hilary.

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